Monday, May 13, 2013

Beginning Stages

I don't know about you, but when I visit an artist's blog it's probably because I want to know about their process--how they go from idea to execution.  So disappointing when they just say, "I use gouache."  Step-by-step, please, including what kind of coffee you're drinking and how often you dip the brush in it by accident.  

Assuming most people don't want quite the level of detail I do, I'm going to try to make a succinct run-through of how I get started on a project like the one I'm working on now.  This is pretty much the same process for all my work when there is a clear job/projct/client.  Personal stuff tends to be more, well, spontaneous, but not always. 

So I'm currently doing a series of illustrations for a business downtown that is a board game cafe.  It's a cafe where you can play board games--any from a collection of 500+, so they say.  The grand opening is the day before the next Art Walk, so they want to make sure they have awesome art on their walls, and they will, because I'm making it.  (Some of it.)

So, Step 1:  Find a project.  Done.*

Step 2: Take a mental inventory of everything you know about the subject.  Think of the most obvious and boring ways to illustrate it in a picture. Think of all the things you could get wrong due to your lack of understanding of the subject. Imagine people making "phhhtt" noises at the picture you are not going to make.

Step 3: Now think about what you would like to do--never mind if it's perfectly appropriate within the parameters of the project for now.  pppp.  Lay awake thinking of interesting ways to compose pictures that involve your subject. Have a brilliant idea or two.  Go to sleep. 

Step 4: Research & Coffee!!!  Okay, so I have my idea now--something to do with board games throughout the world and in history.  It's an idea I can get excited about; there's variety, depth, culture, escapism...  Now I have to go learn something, or many things, that I didn't know before, like where did chess originate anyway, and is Chinese Checkers really Chinese? (My guess was no--I was right.)  Put my faith in Wikipedia and Google Image search, and follow any interesting leads.  Create folders on desktop to file interesting bits and useful reference material.

Step 5: Now that I'm bombarded with information and images, I go have another coffee, take a shower and then start to sketch--away from the material I just collected.  Now is the time for it to mingle with what's innately in my head.  This is how I make sure I start a picture that I actually want to finish, instead of just piecing existing images together and losing interest halfway through.  I make a few loose thumbnails arranging things in different ways, thinking a little bit about color and a lot about tone, gesture and composition and not too much about accuracy.  

Step 6: Come back the next day and think about accuracy.  Do more research. Revise thumbnails.  

*Step No-Later-Than-This: EARLY is the best time to lock down on a format if I haven't been given one by the client.  Work that's getting framed goes in frames. Just saw some nice 12x16" frames with mats go on sale? I just picked my format! This saves many tears later on.

Step 7: Think about color.  This is where I am now.  I often jot down a few notes about color next to my thumbnails.  I have my favorite color schemes, and I'm not ashamed of them.  Before painting, I will test them out on a scrap just to make sure.


...after thinking about color, I scan in my thumbnails and do a couple of really rough color comps in Photoshop. I turn the sketch into a transparent layer and then, on a new layer, I scribble in anything close to the right color, using the basic paintbrush tool.  Then I use "replace color" and select any area to automatically adjust that color everywhere it appears.  So, color, tweak, and repeat until it makes me feel happy.

Steps 8-Finish coming soon!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Hands & Feet

I must have a hundred drawings of my own hands and feet.  Like the frighteningly vast inventory of self-portraits that every artist has stashed away, my visible appendages make up one of the largest sub-categories in my sketchbook themes, due to their always being available.  

Like most aspiring artists, I found them to be awkward and mysterious subjects well into high school--and you can tell by all the mitten-handed characters inexplicably standing in water or tall grass from back then.  (Well, no you can't, because I won't ever publish them online, although there's a guy running around somewhere in Georgia with one of my handless girls tattooed on his side...) 

Anyway, I got over it.  I actually kind of love them.  They're so expressive, lyrical, telling little stories like Hawaiian hula dancers, grounding the figure and giving it weight and life.  When you think about it, they might be the most familiar objects in our lives, so there's really no excuse not to get them right.
I guess I should try drawing other people's hands and feet more.  Baby and kid hands are especially troublesome when you're used to doing long narrow ones like mine.  I had a job a couple years ago doing a print ad that focused on a kid's hands, and they came out looking a bit stiff--totally copied from a photo.  (Try getting a kid to hold their hands still for 5 minutes!)

I was definitely life-guarding when I drew this.

But I'd imagine after doing them a bunch more times, I'd get the hang of it.  (See my soap box about how talent is phooey and everything comes down to practice--wait, I haven't written about that yet.  Well, now you have that to look forward to.)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Sketching from Photos

I scanned a few sketches I did from photos of familiar subjects--kids I worked with for at least a year (and my cat), so I knew their personalities.  They illustrate how helpful it is to have some experience with your portrait subjects.  I tend not to notice the common drawing-from-a-photo issues (the tell-tale "stiffness" for instance)  if I actually know the person.                                                                                                                             So I definitely advocate getting to know someone a little before doing their portrait (or taking the artist out for coffee if you're having your portrait done.)  Snapping your own photos is not only helpful for finding the perfect composition and lighting that you're after, it's also a good excuse to spend some time interacting.                                                                                                   

I was commissioned to do a portrait of a pair of kids one time.  The mom wanted it to be a surprise for the dad, so she didn't want me to come over to meet the kiddos. She gave me 4 or 5 photos of each kid, including some taken outside in natural light (because I had specifically asked for that.)  The outdoor shots were taken on a blazingly sunny day, so there were harsh shadows across their faces. Of course, Mom's favorite shots were ones that were taken indoors with a flash.

I never met the kids in person--never watched them run around in the yard or heard them explain their favorite Pokemon character...  The portrait came out...OK.  The foliage was the best part. The client was happy, but I couldn't bring myself to show it to anyone else.  So, I'm never doing it that way again if I can help it.  Insist on face-to-face meetings--that's just good advice for anything, if you think about it.


All future portraits that I do on commission will be totally awesome!  There will just be some fine print in my order form under Expenses (if I don't know you): coffee, mini-golf outing, afternoon at the park...or something.